The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the more intriguing teams in the NFL this season. They were the big spenders in free agency, and it’s time to see if their lofty investments pay off.
The weeds have been completely uprooted and the thriving, young top soil is beginning to show on the defensive side of the ball. On the offensive side, quarterback Blake Bortles will once again play the role of conductor of a sleeping juggernaut. The Jaguars have the potential to emerge into one of the scariest offenses this year.
But all of that depends on the continued development of Bortles.
The former first round pick dramatically improved upon a fairly disappointing rookie campaign last season by posting 4,428 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. It’s easy to understand the excitement leading up to his third year in the offense considering the fact that he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes as a rookie.
A more confident and meticulous player emerged in the sophomore version of Bortles as he steadily adjusted to the significantly increased speed of the NFL. Those improvements also came from having a slew of playmakers on offense. One could make the case that the Jaguars have one of best offensive units in the NFL on paper.
Bortles is a name that rolls off tongues differently when assessing his skills as a quarterback. Some believe he’s destined to breakout and become a star in the league, and others see nothing but mediocrity in his future. During the offseason, ESPN staff writer Mike DiRocco posed the question to the other AFC South writers regarding Bortles’ potential to become an elite quarterback.
Paul Kuharsky was the only one who was convinced of Bortles’ talent, but even he wouldn’t use the word elite when prognosticating his future.
“I think he can qualify as a very good quarterback who still throws interceptions,” said Kuharsky. “And the interception rate will come down. But if you’re looking for a quarterback who is rarely going to turn the ball over, he’s not your guy.”
There are certainly plenty of reasons to be concerned with Bortles’ overall body of work. He throws way too many interceptions, his completion percentage has been shoddy at best and he has a tendency to hold onto the football too long.
But he has only played a couple of years in the league. The surrounding cast around him has never been as talented as it is this year, and for the first time in his NFL career, he won’t be switching offensive coordinators.“I think just the fact that we’re in it for a second year,” said Bortles, during an appearance on News4Jax. “We went through a coordinator change, and I think having Greg Olson there for two years in a row is going to be a huge help for the consistency and continuity we’re able to build. Guys feel more comfortable within the scheme and the terminology and all of the adjustments and everything. Guys feel really good with it, and now we can kind of dial it in and get better.”
The pieces are in place for Bortles to have a special year.
The combination of wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, along with a healthy tight end in Julius Thomas, should open up plenty of opportunities to throw the ball down the field. Offensive line play has looked promising at times, but it is obviously still a work in progress. And the combination of Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon gives the Jaguars a strong one-two punch at running back the team hasn’t seen in years.
No one is saying Bortles will suddenly become a top-five quarterback, but he will show dramatic improvements this season like he did last year. By the end of the year, we should all be able to agree that he’s at least really good.